Marco Müller (Rutz***): Bringing German Cooking to the Filigrane Level
It all started between two friends and a wild dream to create a true culinary identity for Berlin and Germany. After a strong start that was interrupted by the sudden passing of Lars Rutz, Marco Müller took over. Almost by accident, a Michelin star arrived in 2007, followed by another one in 2016 and a third in 2020. But the purpose of Rutz remains unchanged and the determination intact. A report from Berlin.
Finding Lars Rutz
“We looked for each other, and we found each other,” says Marco Müller about Lars Rutz. Born in Babelsberg, Müller completed his training as a chef in 1988 in Potsdam and subsequently worked mostly in Berlin. He met Rutz – a sommelier - in 1999 at Harlekin restaurant when Müller arrived as head chef. Together, they spent endless nights envisioning new horizons: A place where German know-how would be studied and nurtured; where local products would be re-discovered and enhanced, and where the evaluation process would follow its own rules rather than the French gastronomic standards. But after recovering from cancer, Lars Rutz was ready for a new, more intense life. He teamed up with Anja and Carsten Schmidt - owners of a wine distribution company - and created the place of his dreams in 2001: Rutz. A house combining a wine bar, a wine shop, and a restaurant on the Chausseestrasse, a 10-minute walk from the Brandenburg gate.
“We imagined our own form of greatness.”
Terrible loss and delicious finds
After a strong start, it was agreed that Marco Müller would become the head chef at Rutz in January 2004. Sadly, Lars relapsed and died a few days before this milestone. He was 33 years old. For Marco, the project became a political and personal cause. Between the ages of 9 and 17, he grew up in Getlow, in the countryside swimming and fishing in the local river. “My grandfather was constantly working in the garden, taking care of trees, fruits, and vegetables.” How else would the chef pick kohlrabi as his favorite product in the kitchen? He recalled the smell of nature in the morning, of freshly cut grass, of corn when you break the cob between your fists, of the meadow; the taste of food harvested shortly before eating. He got to know fruits and vegetables but also flowers, leaves, and herbs. He recalled the “trusted plates” where farmers would offer flavorful vegetables next to a small box where users were invited to leave money to pay for what they had taken. “I could not find these childhood aromas in the products I ordered in Berlin.” Locating such regional rarities while building the logistical chain to bring them into town fresh became the obsession of the team. “I could get a lobster from Bretagne to Frankfurt or Berlin in twelve hours, but local fishermen living an hour from here were unable to deliver their fresh catch to my door.” Marco Müller and his team relentlessly searched, and they made many finds. Almost twenty years later, they still discover: In the terroir, in the past, and in the intricacies of their obsessive brains.
“Rutz, like Berlin, is at the crossroads of everything: The world, Germany, gastronomy, and history”
Breaking new aromatic grounds
And so, you have it. A team on a mission, in collision with a country that calls food “Lebensmittel” – a means to live – and puts price and quantity before quality as an essential prerequisite. Cooks in Germany were autodidacts, influenced by Scandinavian, Italian, and French food cultures, and more recently by Asia. “Our short seasons lead to a down-to-earth culture with a primary focus on potatoes and conserving food to make it through the next winter.” But Germany reached a point where it is ready to evolve and embrace regionality. “Near Luxembourg, you have three great examples of transformations grounded in the closely neighboring French culture, with three triple-starred restaurants: Christian Bau, Thomas Schanz, and Clemens Rambichler.” The Rutz crew took the radical road to excellence: They devoted their art to “filigrane cooking,” by investigating the tiniest origins of each local product, by establishing strong relationships with farmers, together researching ancestral techniques while searching for new ways of impressing “gastronomic clients” in the dining room. “I love French cuisine - especially in France - but we felt from the start that butter and cream could be replaced by fermented or pickled ingredients in order to present local fish, meat, or vegetables without corrupting the essence of their aromas. We imagined our own form of greatness.”
The long way home
“One of the rare positive effects of global warming can be seen in the North Sea where squids are back, together with ten fascinating sorts of algae.” Michelin stars were never the goal, but they came anyway. One in 2007, followed by a second in 2014 and a third in 2020, thanks to the robustness of the core team comprising Falco Mühlichen, the head of restaurant, Nancy Grossmann, the best sommelier in Germany and Dennis Quetsch, the chef, while Marco Müller became executive chef. Twenty-two years after the creation of Rutz, they are more active than ever: Looking for new providers, new products, and new perspectives. The chef defines himself as a “discoverer,” “ein Entdecker” in German. We are always ready to work on a new wine with our “Rebel winemakers,” happy to develop a new beer taste, to meet new people, and attract new collaborators. In 2020, the team opened “Wirtshaus Rutz Zollhaus.” There is still so much to discover in the German food culture and so many natural treasures with which to innovate.
Rutz is the 33rd three-star restaurant that we are visiting. We are not coming to criticize anything: Our goal is to share with our readers the magic of top-level performances and to inspire them with singular stories. Arriving at 3 pm, we started with a two-hour conversation with Marco Müller, who took us on a mesmerizing odyssey into his obsessed mind, despite his calm manners. A trip to the past when West Berlin was located within Eastern Germany. Rutz, like Berlin, is at the crossroads of everything: The World, Germany, gastronomy, and history. And when we sat for dinner, we were treated to a mind-boggling ballet of simple yet masterful creations starting – among other appetizers - with the white onion and juniper. Followed by the springwater trout and rhubarb. Surely, the dry-aged carp perfectly illustrates the DNA of Rutz: A beautiful dish that many clients hesitate to order since carp is still associated in the minds of people from East Germany with a stinky fish that you need to put in your bathtub for a few days before eating. Those who dare will change their mind! We recommend booking a table and choosing the 8-course “Inspiration Menu.” It could be your best investment of the year.
Rutz turned into a platform from where the relentless work of the team could be expressed to the world